Adventure, Change and a new Challenge – The Marathon Des Sables (30th Edition)

22/04/2015

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Adventure.

Change.

Possibilities.

Experiencing.

Adventure can be so addictive. Once we learn to open our minds, our eyes, our thoughts and our self to new beliefs, cultures, experiences… we will never be the same again. Should we be? After all, aren’t we, as humans meant to change? If we weren’t, we would never develop beyond the mindset of a baby and our species would not have survived as it has. We are surely not meant to stay stuck at the ages of (for example) 1, 7, 15, 21, 30, 42, 55, 60 and beyond: either physically, mentally or emotionally… and what about the the human motivation to achieve self-actualisation, as described by Abraham Maslow… he who has been quoted as saying: “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” where to grow means to experience…

Everything we experience has the capacity to change us. IF we let it. There can be so many reasons why people don’t change, and I encounter a lot of these within my counselling practice, but if we allow it, if we embrace it, if we look to use what we find as a tool for opening our self, our minds, bodies and hearts, then how can that not be an overall positive way to look at, and live, LIFE?

“It” being CHANGE.

Change can be scary, it can be exciting, exhilarating even… especially for the adrenaline junkies out there who do crazy things like jump out of aeroplanes… ultrarunners at least have their feet on the floor 😉 … and change can come in many forms, not just travel (although isn’t that a great way to find new things!).  It can be from confronting fears, from changing how you dress, trying new things… from the repercussions of others’ behaviours… by choosing to do things differently, we lift ourselves out of our comfort zone… we “challenge” ourselves. Our reactions and responses to such challenges can teach us so much… not just about others although you can tell a lot about someone by how they treat you… but about who we are, who we want to be and what we want our lives to be like!

Last year I finished my back-to-back stage runs and completed the challenge I had set out to achieve, but all the while I was training for that challenge, the words muttered at the beginning of my journey in Sierra Leone, kept repeating. The suggestion of the Marathon des Sables.

I’d gone to the website, looked it up and felt fear. It’s an iconic race. It has a fierce reputation. It has its’ detractors too… those who call it a “fun run in the sun” as has apparently been said to people I’ve met… and for some I’m sure it is. For those with years of experience and adventure and endurance. But 155 miles across the Western Sahara of Morocco, self supported and in temperatures of up to 50 degrees celsius or more… the race that inspired all of the others you now see across the world… “how hard can it be” echoed once more. As I’ve already blogged, entries for 2015 were not open and I had to wait. I figured, get the others done, see what you’re dealing with and whether you even like it.

Only… entries became available before that happened. What to do?

With the advance notification process engaged, the day of applying dawned… time for a decision and no more sitting on the fence talking about “what if’s”… I had to make a choice.

If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.
If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.
~~ Jim Rohn ~~

So 4 tabs open on the computer 10 minutes before entry… refreshing, constantly. The form came up. It got completed… 2 minutes later email confirmation came through. I had my spot. All UK entries were gone within 12 minutes. I prayed I’d enjoy the other stage runs, otherwise this could be a very expensive lesson I’d have to learn from. I then concentrated on the challenge at hand, which I’ve already blogged about.

For anyone interested in reading about that, posts can be found here.

Coming home from America, with the amount of mileage and training I’d put in over that 18 month period to date meant there was a price to pay. Achilles tendinopathy and in my case, lovely thickening… probably permanent. Weeks and probably months of rest was what I needed to fully heal but with an Ultra already booked in some weeks ahead, I took 2 weeks then returned to the gym. Cue excruciating pain and 4 weeks of no running… cross training became the way to go so as not to lose all fitness, followed by two weeks of easy running before hitting the planned Ultra (you really do have to feel sorry for my coach – this was against his advice, as well as my sports therapist). A 50K I vastly underestimated even though it’s billed as a double your marathon time and add a bit more on… I’d also encouraged a friend to do this even though their longest race was 15 miles to that point. We “got it done”, and within the cut off… but this was not a wise move and indeed a very valuable lesson learned – listen to the Coach and Sports Therapist in future – they’re there to help you!

So how do you train for an event that’s on another continent, that’s going to be so much hotter than the ones you’ve already done, and over long distances again… all while you’re in the UK in the midst of winter and have a job (or two) to fit in?

You get a schedule, you stick to it as best as possible. You get a coach if possible, and have regular sports / leg massages. You run… a lot. You run long easy runs on both days of the weekends, and for this event, I also walked. Given the terrain of sand, sand and more sand… with my lack of experience, and the blistering from Madagascar that was still healing, expecting to walk parts was vital. Expecting for and training with that in mind would help the mental strength too. You also run with a weighted pack… starting small and building the weight. Given my pack had been 10.9kg without water in America, I went up to 11.2kg in training this time using a tip from a Hong Kong runner… packs of rice! I tried firewood to start with but that added to the chafing… you might want to avoid that one!

You comb the kit list and try and test everything. Luckily I had already gone through this with the other events so had a very good idea of what worked for me. Anything I wasn’t sure about, I rang my tentmate. Call it luck if you will, but another member of my running club was also doing this event and not only that, she was an experienced ultra runner, had completed MdS three years previously with her husband and is a very kind person who always stops to help others if she can. It just happens that they also own the shop I had gotten my previous stage racing kit from, and they are only round the corner (check out their shop here)!

One thing I hadn’t thought about until it was too late was heat training. Kingston University was not only fully booked up but the cost of full sessions would be another added expense. They don’t charge huge amounts but costs do start to stack up with training, coaching, massage, kit and then this! Once again my soon-to-be tentmate stepped into the breach.  As it had a treadmill and bike, she offered to share sessions with me.  Due to time constraints I couldn’t accept all, but managed to fit in 2 x 2 hour sessions: very helpful and informative and I really recommend these for anyone who is planning on desert races.

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Another thing that can bring reassurance pre-event is sorting out tentmates.  Tents are grabbed on a first come, first served basis.  If you organise through friends of friends, then you can meet up beforehand and/or connect through social media. As my tentmate already knew me, she invited me to share with a group that was forming, and I’m so very glad I said Yes! I had the opportuity to meet one person at the shop, and then two others at a race in January – for those in the UK, the Country to Capital 45 is a great race that a lot of people use as a training run for MdS.

You will then go through the nightmare that is known as Hell aka getting your medical certificate signed and an ECG print out!  Unfortunately GPs are not often well versed in sports medicine. An ECG can show little anomalies which will mean your GP refusing to sign your medical certificate and you having to rush off for an urgent appointment to get a heart ultrasound. Naturally I was one such lucky person :/ You can only get your medical certificate signed after a set date. This will allow around 3 weeks of torture. It states in the UK rules that you need both ECG and medical certificate signed, dated and stamped. I was very lucky that the cardiologist I saw didn’t mind my frantic phone calls, leaving signed documents to be stamped at the last minute and didn’t charge extra. There is obviously the need for safety – no GP will want to send you off to the middle of the desert if you have a potential problem but when you run ultramarathons and have a very low pulse rate which can show as incomplete ECGs, not all GPs will understand this. So for those runners that read this with a future event in mind, if you can get a free ECG done well in advance to set your mind at ease that you are ok at present (it obviously doesn’t eliminate future problems), I would advise doing it if possible. I would also advise checking GP prices. Some lucky people (aka not me) get theirs free.  Some not so lucky people (again, not me) get charged a fee… some very lucky people (yes, this would be me) get charged a high fee! For every single certificate! I could have had a basic holiday for the price of 3 certificates, I jest not.

You will then come to the final few weeks and hopefully tapering on your running… this should be an enjoyable phase, after all what could go wrong? Unfortunately due to all the aforementioned plus the unknown, or even known for returnees… you will start to wonder if you need to adjust your nutrition, try something new (don’t do it!!)… change pack, change trainers… hopefully you will already have had the velcro stitched for your gaiters… you will re-weigh… everything! Especially food. You may need to go buy more if you snack on any treats you pack (this was me, several times)…

But this is part of the path… part of the journey that is known as the Marathon des Sables… surely the race would be the reward… after all, how hard could it be?

© April 2015 Michelle Payne

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Challenge 2 of 3 (Triple Continent Challenge)

27/08/2014

4 deserts – Racing the Planet – Madagascar

250km unsupported

6 stages

Start line… 31st August… 

It’s finally here!

And so the time is rapidly approaching for Challenge 2 to commence… 250 km across varied terrain in Africa.  The last email I read from Racing the Planet brought more information, including the fact that 4 members of staff had had their luggage lost so it was a good idea to pack as much as you could into your hand luggage.  There then followed some frantic searching online for hand baggage allowances.

Now this may be a sign of things to come… and doesn’t really bode well for either my packing skills or how much it looks like I will be running with on my back.  It turns out the airline has an allowance of 7kg for hand luggage (within dimensions) plus you get a handbag to carry things on.  At 2am everything came out of the main bag, scattered across the living room floor and lots of squashing packets into creviches began.  I’m not quite sure how well this is going to go down when it’s time to go through those x-ray machines… what if they insist I have to open my back pack up?

There was, of course, no room to put my trainers in the pack. Now if there is one thing you will not be able to replace for a race… it’s going to be this key item. We spend time breaking them in, we send them off to get stitched up for gaitering… there is no other item that you have probably taken as much thought and planning with as what goes on your feet! And that’s not just a race of this type, but any running. Blisters and foot problems make or break a race. There is therefore only one solution… and that’s to put the Converse into the luggage and wear my running shoes. Trail shoes. Woah… what a look to rock through customs LOL!

This then has thrown up another aspect… food! For those that know me, they know I love my food… especially cake. Cake… I feel a Homer Simpson moment coming on…

I have planned my nutrition quite carefully I think… but it doesn’t fit in my pack. I chucked everything into a stuff sack. A 20L stuff sack. It was full.  My backpack is 20L. Where will everything else go? And… and… I’m under the daily calorie allowance I was hoping for as well! I’m praying I don’t get hungry… lives will be affected if I get hungry… I love my food… cake…

Doh… anyway… keep the writing on track, no time for cake tangents…  it’s time to get to the start line in Madagascar! Hopefully the rumblings from Iceland will not worsen… hopefully my luggage will arrive safely… there are 4 flights to get there but I’m reassured the weather is getting a tad hot (ok so there are murmurings of 40 degrees heat – I’m ignoring those) so I have packed a couple of bikinis for the hotel pool for which there is much logical reasoning! If you want to know what that is, email me via the 4deserts website and I will reply on the blog there and once I’ve been and got taped up, it won’t be long before I depart the UK.  Oh yes, that was another little thing… the legs have a few niggles… the plantar has kicked in again, the ankles are painful, swollen and the calves… well let’s just say if you could get rock solid, they’d be harder, so naturally the Achilles has decided to join in the grumbling. Obviously I’m ignoring all these things too, plus I’ve had a bit of help from my coach and fantastic sports therapist to keep me going 😉

So as to links…

If anyone fancies watching the updates of the race, please click here.

If you want to email me to send encouragement to keep me going through, what I have been reliably informed, will be moments of hell, please click here.

If you want to read a response to any emails sent, and to catch up with my thoughts on how each day is going, my blog (along with others) can be found here.

And of course, not forgetting the other aspect of what I’m doing here, highlighting the fundraising and need to get awareness out about domestic abuse / violence, to say that no, it is not ok, please share, donate, and get the message out, my justgiving page can be found here.

I look forward to hopefully hobbling over all stage finish lines… have a guess as to how long it will take me overall, and donate for each guess 😉

4 flights folks… I’m possibly on one of them right now as you read this!

Have a great week!
Michelle

© August 2014 Michelle Payne

 


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